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Disneyland in Tokyo Is a 10-Year Hit : Entertainment: The attraction thrives, even during an economic downturn. It has had 140 million visitors.

April 12, 1994| From Associated Press

CHIBA, Japan — The Magic Kingdom is having trouble in Europe, but more than 10 years after Mickey Mouse and his gang opened the gates to free-spending Japanese, the Tokyo Disneyland thrives.

"I love it here," said Takamasa Mochizuki, 7, giggling at a mock-up of Native Americans burning a settler's cabin. "It makes me afraid and then it makes me happy."

The Tokyo theme park proved naysayers wrong from the start. Instead of peaking in the first year and tapering off, as predicted, attendance has steadily increased. Even after waiting several hours for the most popular rides, people come back.

"We were very nervous in the beginning, of course," said Katsuhiko Nakamura, publicity director of Oriental Land Co., Disney's licensee in Japan. "There were no 100% guarantees that this would succeed."

About 140 million people, 17 million more than Japan's population, have bustled through Tokyo Disneyland since 1983. Last year, they spent an average of 9,000 yen ($85), helping make Tokyo the most profitable Disney park.

Visitors to financially troubled Euro Disney spend only $45, estimated Jeffrey Logsdon, head of The Seidler Co., a research firm. At the original Disneyland in Anaheim and Disney World in Florida, the average is between $60 and $70.

Tokyo Disneyland's success is due partly to its location in a metropolitan area of 30 million people.

Oriental Land approached Disney with the idea of building a theme park in 1962, but the deal was not made until 1979.

The park is fully owned by Oriental Land Co., which licenses Disney characters and other copyrighted material from Walt Disney Productions.

It opened in 1983, when the economy was booming and consumers were looking for ways to spend their unaccustomed spare cash and leisure time. After decades of hard work, the Japanese wanted to have fun.

Euro Disney, by contrast, opened just in time for the European recession, leading people either to stay away or scrimp.

In Japan, despite the worst economic slump since World War II, attendance has continued to grow, increasing last year by 200,000 to more than 16 million.

Rides and other attractions are the same as those at Disney parks elsewhere, with a few exceptions: a Japanese restaurant staffed by kimono-clad waitresses, a tour of Cinderella's castle and "Meet the World," a presentation of Japanese history from a foreign perspective.

Some say Walt Disney Productions has helped write a new chapter in Japanese social history by popularizing the idea that family outings can be fun. Families account for about half of the park's visitors.

"Leisure was not always a part of the Japanese lifestyle," Nakamura said. "Fathers used to see family outings as a duty."

"It's a wonderful place to bring the kids," said 7-year-old Takamasa's mother, Yumiko Mochizuki.

Informality and enthusiasm are the hospitality watchwords at Tokyo Disneyland. Staff members smile at the visitors, take their photographs and cheer them on.

"Before Disneyland, Japanese were without standards to judge service," said Hidehiko Sekizawa, a specialist in the leisure industry at the Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.

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